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Matthew Baillie Begbie Biography

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Matthew Baillie Begbie

Birthdate:   9 May 1819
Website: N/A
Category: Political

 Begbie spent the first thirty-nine years of his life in Great Britain. During these years his life was filled with social and intellectual activities. He received his first degree from Cambridge University where he studied mathematics and the classics. He was involved in a great number of extracurricular activities, including singing and acting in amateur productions, playing chess, rowing, and tennis. After Cambridge Begbie went on to study law at Lincoln's Inn. He established a successful law practice in London before heading to British Columbia.

 Sent from England in 1858 to be the first judge of the new colony of British Columbia, he quickly established his reputation as a resolute, but fair, upholder of British law and order in the scattered mining camps of the colony, the white population of which was largely American. His efforts and those of Governor James Douglas ensured that the colony remained British, to become part of Canada.

 During his years on the bench, Begbie traveled throughout British Columbia, on foot and later on horseback administering justice in sometimes informal circumstances but he is said to have always worn his judicial robes and wig when court was in session. During his early years, he played a role in government including drafting legislation. He spoke several languages and is said to have been able to conduct trials in several aboriginal languages without the use of an interpreter.

 Upon BC entering Confederation in 1871, Begbie became its first chief justice. He guided the judicial system of the province to an era of considerable sophistication, displaying characteristics unexpected of a Victorian judge: espousal of the rights of Chinese and native people; a lifelong interest in progressive law reforms and a tendency to take the side of the "little man." In later years he was the social lion of the genteel society of Victoria, where he lived in bachelor comfort.


He was knighted by Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle in 1875.

Begbie is interred at Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, British Columbia

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Posted by: Hyack      Last updated: 08-09-2007      Hits: 11027